COLUMBIA — Missouri caught Florida at opportune times each of the last two years.
The Tigers outscored the Gators 83-33 on aggregate in a game the week Jim McElwain was fired in 2017, and the game the week after Florida lost 36-17 to Georgia in the Cocktail Party in 2018.
At the very least, Dan Mullen's team enter's today's game with a full understanding of the cost of potentially overlooking Missouri. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. at Faurot Field and will be televised on CBS.
Florida, ranked No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings, is 8-2 (5-2 Southeastern Conference), while the Tigers are 5-4 (2-3 SEC).
Kelly Bryant is expected to start at quarterback for the Tigers after missing the last five quarters of game action with a strained hamstring.
Missouri has looked like an entirely different team at home versus on the road this season. With a 5-0 home record, 2-0 in conference play, the offense is completing its passes at home at a 62.8 percent rate for 8.3 yards per attempt, 245 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, while the run game has averaged 4.86 yards per carry and 216 yards per game for nine scores, according to cfbstats.com.
On the road, the Tigers are completing 55.5 percent of their passes for 6.4 yards per attempt and 218.8 yards per game for four scores and three picks, while on the ground picking up 3.16 yards per carry for 110.5 yards per game and three scores.
"There's not a simple solution, there's not a simple answer other than what we're doing, we've got to do better," Missouri coach Barry Odom said Tuesday. "We've got to execute."
Whatever the reasons, Missouri is a top-25 offense at home and a bottom-20 offense on the road in total yards (461.8 to 329.3) and a top-40 offense at home and a bottom-10 offense on the road in yards per play (6.22 to 4.75). Today's game should be a pretty clear indicator of whether there's something to the Tigers playing better at home, or if they've simply hosted opponents with bad defenses.Missouri doesn't even need to be dominant on offense. It just needs a better showing than the 21 total points scored in the last three weeks to help support a defense that is allowing 19.1 points per game.
It will be tough against a defense that generates pressure and trusts its secondary enough to blitz on anything longer than third-and-short, but Georgia showed a decent blueprint: get what you can on early downs and complete passes behind the rushers on third downs.
On the other side of things, Florida is a team that has struggled running the ball this season. And though quarterback Kyle Trask can pull the ball and run, he is not the kind of running quarterback in the mold of Wyoming's Sean Chambers, Mississippi's John Rhys Plumlee or Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr., all players that have given Missouri's defense fits this season.
A sampling of the Gators' issues on the ground and Mullen's trust level with that part of the offense: Florida has gained 136 first downs by pass this season, and 66 by rush. On 115 third down attempts this season, the Gators have elected to pass 71 times, according to cfbstats, and the only split in which they run more than pass is on third downs of 7-10 yards, rushing 10 times and passing eight.
This tendency will clash with how Missouri likes to play defense. The Tigers are top-10 nationally in average yards per pass allowed (third, 5.5), average passing offense allowed (fourth, 147.7 yards per game), completion percentage allowed (third, 48.8 percent), total passing yards allowed (third, 1,329) and total completions allowed (first, 117). Missouri is also tied for 13th in the country with nine passing touchdowns allowed.
Florida's offensive line has been banged up a bit this year and is younger than most SEC offensive lines. It's certainly not the powerhouse unit the Tigers faced a week ago at Georgia, and if Missouri can keep a handle on Lamical Perine, Dameon Pierce and Emory Jones and force the Gators to pass, they might be able to cause enough havoc to give the offense a spark and keep the team in the game for another week.
"They play aggressively offensively," Odom said. "I've got respect for the way that Dan has designed the amount of touches that he gets everybody on the roster that side of the ball, he spreads the ball out, you know doesn't try to do too much and doesn't press."
Odom also noted Mullen likes to get the ball to skill players in space. Missouri's linebackers and secondary have been good at one-on-one tackling since the opening week debacle, and they will be tested again today.
Perine is a favorite target of Trask out of the backfield, and Florida is deep at the wide receiver position, with Freddie Swain, Trevon Grimes, Van Jefferson and tight end Kyle Pitts each with at least 400 yards receiving and three touchdowns this season.
Missouri is a home underdog, though just a touchdown, which is not bad considering the difference in recent performances of both teams and the ranking of Florida.
The Tigers could have been playing this game for second place in the SEC East before their slide, and are now fighting to stay ahead of South Carolina and Tennessee in the standings.
A win today would not redeem a season that has seen six weeks of promise bookended by five weeks of disappointment, but it would help reinforce the idea the overall direction of the program has continued to improve every season under Odom.